The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Actual Rating: 0.5


The Art of Not Breathing takes place five years after the death of Eddie Main, who drowned in the ocean. His twin sister, Elsie Main, is haunted by flashbacks of him as her family struggles to not fall apart.

Elsie doesn’t remember what happened that night on the beach. But when she meets Tay McKenzie, she is introduced to the world of freediving, and she becomes determined to find answers to her lingering questions, even if it means travelling to the bottom of the sea.

One thing I liked about this was how the flashbacks were written. It’s true that it’s kind of hard to realize when they were happening because they were incorporated directly into the current timeline, but in the long run, I actually liked that type of writing style because it felt like it illuminated the impact of Eddie’s death and how the memory of his presence seemed to follow Elsie around.

But I’m afraid I disliked the main character too much to really enjoy the story.

For example:

“If you come with me, I’ll get naked for you.”

Don’t use your body as a bribing device – I wish Elsie understood that people were worth more than that.

One important aspect of this book is how Dillon, Elsie’s older brother, falls to an eating disorder. I cannot stress out serious anorexia is. And yet, Elsie brushes it aside like it’s nothing, like it’s something not important enough to deal with now.

He nods, but I know he thinks I’m deserting him. Just hang on a few more days, Dilbil, I think to myself as I leave him. I’m sure that getting to the bottom of the drop-off is going to give me all the answers: to remember what happened, to get closure. It just has to. And then I’ll be able to focus on Dillon.

So she has a lack of the sense of urgency, but in addition to that, her attitude towards her brother is unforgivable.

“Okay, calm down, I won’t tell,” I says, moving my head away from his mouth. “Why don’t you get in the shower. You smell really bad.”

Oh, yes, Elsie. Poor you, for having to smell Dillon’s vomit.
Never mind the fact that your brother needs your help.

It continues when Dillon is hospitalized.

I’m suddenly fed up with his disgusting smell, his arrogance, and the fact that he keeps saying weird things and then denything them, I’m totally fed up with him.

At this point, Elsie’s selfishness is extremely annoying. She continues to just focus on what her own goal is, completely ignoring the struggles that other people are going through – and she is not even slightly understanding about what he is going through.

Elsie’s hatred of various smells continues.

When the door is shut, Dillon pulls my head toward his. I try to keep my nose away from his mouth, which smells of vile vanilla meal replacement.

I’m just really, really, tired of hearing about how everything smelled bad – as if that was the worst thing that was going on.

And, there was that moment where Elsie seemed to stand up to her bullies – when she was really being selfish. Again.

“Hmm. Not quite skinny enough yet. Still got flabby thighs. It’s a shame about your brother, though. He used to be quite fit. I saw for myself, you know. And now he’s an ugly mess of skin and bone.”
I pretend I’m not hurt by her comments and hold my head high. “That’s odd,” I say. “I wonder why you still follow him around.”

Wow, Elsie. I’m so proud of you for standing up for yourself even as you completely disregard the help that your brother needs and focus just on how great you are for not showing weakness at her snub.

That’s not even the worst of it. Elsie may be desperate to find out what happened to her dead brother, but no matter what, you never, ever, ever treat it like a dirty secret and use it as blackmail material.

“You tell Dad anything, and I will tell him all about you starving yourself to death, about the laxatives. He’ll drive you to the nearest hospital, and they will lock you up and force-feed you.”

Being unsupportive is one thing. Using someone’s weakness against them is another.

And keep in mind that this is Elsie talking to her brother, the only sibling she has left.

There also seems to be a diminishing of the importance of other serious issues. Elsie nearly drowns when she goes diving, and she stops trying and has to be rescued.

“I didn’t want to be saved,” I say quietly.

But later, she says this:

“It wasn’t a suicide attempt,” I say, “It was just a stupid thing to do.”

What she said previously applies to so many people in the world. So many people in the world are tired of living and don’t want to be saved, and I will not stand by and let her diminish that kind of mindset as something “stupid”.

That’s why I have to give this story one star – because looking at the main character, she seemed selfish, not determined. And there just didn’t seem like there was development, whether it was in terms of the individual characters or in terms of the relationships between them (especially between Tay and Elsie).

But most of all, I have to rate this one star just because of the main character’s views towards the issues in society that are already not treated as seriously as they should be.


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